Professor Hugh Simpson (b 1931), pathologist and explorer, nominated
William Thomson: Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)
Ian Donald (1910-87)
It is not often that a doctor can alter medical practice. Ian Donald was one of the few. Due to him, 'ultrasound' is now a household word. Every branch of medicine is touched by it. Every hospital ward has a diagnostic machine and most new mothers a picture to prove it.
Ian Donald brought this into effect. Although born in Cornwall in 1910, his father and grandfather had been Scottish doctors. Graduating in medicine from St Thomas's in 1937, he joined the RAF at the outbreak of war. Always interested in gadgets, he became intrigued by the fledgling developments of radar and sonar, first invented by a French physicist as a possible detection of submarines.
Returning to London after the war, he became interested in obstetrics, putting his interest in machines to use by inventing means of aiding the breathing of new-born babies. Called 'Mad Donald' by his colleagues, he was looked upon as a crazy inventor.
Appointed to the Chair of Midwifery at the University of Glasgow in 1954, he had a chance to flourish. His enthusiasm and restless creative energy, his eagerness to challenge established practice and his dynamic, lively lectures became part of the scene. Publication of his book 'Practical Obstetric Problems' brought him world-wide fame.
Meanwhile he had been mulling over the question of how could sonar be used to detect the odd lumps such as fibroids and ovarian cysts that caused such problems in his practice. With this in mind, he took a collection of such recently removed specimens to the research department of Babcock and Wilcox at Renfrew, who were using ultrasound to detect flaws in metal. He saw the potential at once and this led to a link with the Kelvin and Hughes Scientific Instrument Company who set about making a useable apparatus that could be taken to the bedside.
Scepticism and ridicule greeted Ian Donald's research. He silenced this by pursuing and perfecting the technique and by 1959 he could demonstrate that clear echoes could be obtained from the fetal head. Application of this meant that size and growth of the foetus could be assessed. Diagnosis of complications (multiple pregnancy, placenta praevia, fetal abnormality) now became possible without the dangers from x-rays then used for this purpose.
To quote Ian Donald himself: 'Anyone who is satisfied with his diagnostic ability and surgical results is unlikely to contribute much to the launching of a new medical service. He should be consumed with a divine discontent with things as they are.'
Luckily for us all, Ian was such a man. Also, he had the right ideas at the right time. It must not be forgotten that Scottish engineering was behind the development of medical ultrasound. Now, all apparatus is made in Japan.
Scientific thinking was changed by Lord Kelvin (my nomination for greatest Scot ever). His inventions and principles have influenced the course of all scientific development throughout the world. He was Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow for 53 years. Born in Ireland, he came to Glasgow at the age of eight, when his father was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics. Educated at home and by attending his father's lectures, he became a matriculated student at Glasgow at the age of 10. After a five years' course he then proceeded to Cambridge for another five years.
His return to Glasgow to become a professor, at 22, coincided with the emergence of the new sciences of current electricity and thermodynamics. Influenced by the mathematics of his father, he insisted that accuracy was vitally important. He applied this thinking to mechanics and out of this developed the basics for the instruments that he invented to carry out his experiments.
Today's scientists consider that Kelvin's most important discovery in pure science was the second law of thermodynamics which established the scientific basis for the age of steam. In applied science the most striking contribution was the first transatlantic telephone cable, the laying of this made possible by his close association with the Clyde shipbuilders.
In later years his own creative energy resulted in the electrical and power industries of today. His original thinking led to the science of geophysics and the understanding of the tides, to the 'vortex atom' theory, to a new form of astronomical clock of absolute accuracy. His yacht, the Lalla Rookh, was a floating laboratory on which he invented the modern mariner's compass and the means of measuring the depth of the sea.
When switching on the light this evening, remember that, as a result of Kelvin's practical application of science, his house in Glasgow was the first in the world to be lit by electricity.
Recognised as the leading figure in science of his day, Kelvin is buried in Westminster Abbey. If 'greatness' is a measure of influence on the next generation, Lord Kelvin comes out on top.